Things I learned at 27 (An Ode to 28)

  1. Buying things still doesn’t change how you feel*, and likely never will
  2. *Buying a new outfit may change how you feel, but not forever. Dress only with the expectation of a short-term ‘change.’
  3. Quality wine is still worth it, but, like a new outfit, cheap wine will do for the moment.
  4. Asking for help is still worth it, too. (See also years 1 – 26.)
  5. Life is more than work/career, always. No matter what you do. Value yourself beyond your work.
  6. Family is the hardest, and most important, thing you can ever do. But really.
  7. If you constantly find yourself saying “it’s a busy season” and you use this same reason as an excuse for putting off x, y, or z, you should probably make a deliberate change for yourself. It will always be busy season. (See also #13.)
  8. If you’d like to know what you actually prioritize in practice, look at how you spend your money.
  9. Damien Jurado’s music will never go out of style.
  10. “The other side” is always worth a hello, and is always better, too.
  11. Bravery comes gently, and gentleness is sometimes the boldest move you can make.
  12. You don’t have to be an expert on everything. A desire to learn (from others, from books, from life experience) is more desirable than being a know-it-all.
  13. Some things are still worth doing even if you can’t do all of them 110%.
  14. The familiar can never begin until you commit to the unfamiliar.
  15. Simple kindness always goes farther than you can imagine.
  16. Music is healing.
  17. “No man is an island,” but really.
  18. Everyone is looking for a place of connection. Refusing to be vulnerable/real/transparent, for any reason, blocks connection.
  19. Most sane people have a therapist.
  20. Fast marketing doesn’t equal fast satisfaction. Go for the feast. Most truly worthy desires actually do take time, gut, and character.
  21. You can’t contain unresolved bitterness. It’ll likely leak on your sphere of influence whether you intend it to or not.
  22. “He’s just not that into you” is really a thing. (Don’t waste your time.)
  23. You’re probably taking yourself too seriously.

World, Wash Off

World wash off

I saw you far.

Craved streets, dark tunnels

And your bars.

Welcome open your hurting arms

In this I felt no harm

 

World wash off

I saw you near.

I saw you near and heard you cry

I took you in and fed you life

I bathed and tended to your hurt

Best expend all the worth

 

World wash off

I met you so:

Riddles and phrases,

And political hazes

Who can sit and who can dine? Your rules, not mine.

Oh, World wash off.

 

World wash off

You are too cruel.

You do not love

You are no fool, You play not fair

You play not kind

This is not what I had in mind.

 

World wash off

I cannot solve.

Cannot know not hear not touch.

Mind cannot hold

Heart cannot bear

World I cannot solve,

Oh, world, wash off.

 

World wash off

I feel no power.

None to know, none to go

You call loud

But who can hear? Not I anymore

Not I, my dear.

 

World wash off

You are just too much.

Kingdom not quite near enough

You are too cruel, I cannot mend

No resolve, and no friend

Oh, world, please wash off.

 

World wash off

I have no bandage.

Wounds that gush and bitter hate

I cannot hold the things you bait

Cannot touch with ten-foot pole

World, you crush me old

 

World wash off

So I can help.

Come near again, heart beat again

I want: feel see hear touch

I want savior-bring, and just king

Oh, world, please, wash off.

 

World wash off

I cannot contain.

Your arguments are filled with blame

I cannot see

Through darkened lens

World wash off, so we can win

 

Oh, World wash off, but come so close

You are too much

That I want to hold

Want to tend to bruise again

Want to my kindness extend

Oh, world wash off

 

World, wash off, but come so close

What will satisfy broken bones?

A king and his table:

I had lost hope

Oh, world wash off, but come so close

 

World wash off

Be born again

You hate that phrase

But how to win?

I had loved, but Love lost name

Want you to meet his true fame

Oh, World wash off.

 

World wash off, but come so close

Bounce on this knee

He has chose.

You are son, you are daughter

A lamb has done gone to slaughter.

Oh, world, wash off.

 

World, wash off, but come so close

Come tuck you in

With new clothes

I will sing a lullaby

And rock by you till many stars fly

Oh world, wash off, but come so close.

Oh, world, wash off

But come so close.

A Discipline of Hope

The older I am the more I realize that most grand things I want – a strong family, a healthy life, a joyful character – don’t come by luck or by chance. Turns out that dreams of good things spark only a small light that, left to its own accord, is horribly weak. Dreams sans discipline never fully age into maturity.

Though weak, small lights do serve a purpose: the pilot light in a house must be lit in order for there to be heated water; any amount of light – no matter how small – in a dark room dispels some amount of darkness. But if I expect that the small light that comes with a new dream will carry the vision to completion, I fool myself.

Dreams are hard work. They tell me dreams are more about the person you are becoming while you wait on the dream than the dream itself. I conclude, and I’ve learned: dreams…are not glamorous. Not for the faint of heart in the least.

This poses a huge problem. I need a lot of work and so do my dreams. Some days I feel very faint of heart. It turns out that the discipline dreams need is called hope. Hope comes hard – this is why hope is so powerful. It is inherently resilient, because that’s its job: to persevere. Hope requires stoking, like a fire. When fire first catches it needs coddling – enough oxygen, but not too much. Starting a fire can be a finicky thing, but once it catches, you’ll be warm for a long time. Hope, too, is this small catch that requires babying. It doesn’t live long on its own. It needs stoking.

My cross country coach in high school was former military. This served him extremely well for yelling at motivating us during practice. I remember he used to make us run repetitions of the steep hill behind the football bleachers. We’d run repetition after repetition until tired. He’d yell on: “Work the hill! Work the hill!” We hated it. The point, of course, was to train us on the hardest part of any race we’d ever run so that we were equipped for the most difficult part of the trail. Maybe any race is only as hard as its most trying leg.

Dreams come hard, needing the fuel of hope. If dreams come hard, hope comes harder. If I am to see anything of what I want, and what’s been wired in me, hope must be my discipline. It is my very own boot camp, my very own “Work the hill!”. This is where I land on this Tuesday morning: hope is a discipline. I can train to that.

 

 

 

Welcome Mat

Heart-center requires a little work. Heart-guard, even more. It is still a tricky balance to guard this heart and without retracting a welcome mat. It is hard still to know who to wave at from the porch and let pass by, who I can invite in for a drink, and who can stay for a while, a long while. A beautiful, sturdy house has doors and windows for a reason.

We reach for cues from the ones before, the ones who came before us, but even in those chapters we find we must bookmark our own pages, read between the lines of the neatly ordered black and white words, and sometimes skip whole chapters.

I overhear my sister and brother-in-law reading about my niece, my little niece who is only just now almost two weeks old, from the next room over—

Crying can be a way for a newborn to strengthen her lungs for future speech. Indecipherable still, a baby’s cries are not only her way of communicating her needs, but of preparing her for words, sentences, conversations, stories. I conclude: crying is, in every way, her main entrance into relationship.

I think on this and I remind myself that our souls are supposed to be needy, because they are unequivocally the seat, the home, to all our passions and longings. And after all, passions and longings must be fed regularly. Souls, too, cry out and develop their words, sentences, conversations, and stories. Souls, too, must learn to flag down the guests who are not welcome, who should not stay. There and again, timid souls must learn to leave the door cracked open a little longer, the porch light on, and the welcome mat out. Always, with the welcome mat out.

Except at night. At the day’s end, the master of the house must close up, lock up, turn in. Tomorrow carries another day and for now we close to the world. For now, we rest from all others’ approval or disapproval, introductions, and visitors. We tuck away into ourselves and refresh. We wash the welcome mat. And we greet the next day with a refreshed gaze—a little closer to words, sentences, conversations, stories. We wave at passerby-ers; we invite some in. We learn the balance of our own souls and of what is life-giving and of who is life-giving. We learn that the river of our own soul is most important if we are to make it to the sea or feed into other rivers. And this is Sabbath–not just from work, but for desire.

Sometimes my soul still cries, writing out her story, stretching her lungs for the deep hidden beneath and all the colors that will write themselves in between the black and white story lines. Here we teach ourselves that rescue is not far off, and that liked a weaned child, the soul that waits on him is not left without nourishment. Like a weaned child we trust that he holds the balance even for my own heart, and for the story I so deeply want written. He still holds the balance for welcome mat in or out, and for all the paces in between. The trusting soul is a Sabbath soul. It is the one who doesn’t need to clamor for the answers right away, but can rest in the balance, the swinging to and fro of the very dance that writes the story.

Desire Space

My work pays me to be still from 8:30 to 9 am every day – 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with no email and no calls, just to remember I have a soul, and that the work rests on God. Sounds wonderful, yes, but it is sometimes very hard for any number of reasons (that are not the purpose of me writing here).

I was going into stillness the other day and I thought to myself, I can’t do this right now…I just have too much desire. I don’t know what spurred that thought, because I (thought I had) learned long ago that there’s no need to hide my true emotions from the Lord, but this particular morning it was hard to imagine setting those things that I longed for so much aside in order to be still. My longing for any number of things in my life was simply clouding my heart. As a quick rescue, I heard the Lord rush in and say, “Let your desire be the holy space.”

It instantly registered: desire not only draws us to the holy, but it is the holy. When we desire our hearts are often open, like porous ground waiting on rain. Sometimes our desire is so big that we seem to gape open. These moments of longing are the windows to who we are, the windows to our souls, where what we were designed to be connects with something eternal. We long for, we search for, we aren’t satisfied. Sometimes discontent is a holy thing.

My work place is focusing on a theme of ‘freedom’ this year for our quarterly prayer retreats, and the first retreat of the year centered around this concept of desire. One of the first lies the speaker debunked is that desire is innately evil. We think of desire and maybe we think of sex, which has unfortunately been crafted into a shame-provoking idea in many settings. On the contrary, desire (which, if it needs to be said, includes so much more than just sex) is a very good thing because it is an integral part of freedom. One thing we talked about at that first retreat is the idea that people who have been enslaved for a long time no longer dream dreams. This is why in our bonded labor work, part of the recovery process for our clients is to walk through a “Freedom Training” so that families can practice making plans for themselves again, finding work, operating inside a world where they are free. Human beings whose worlds are controlled by others have no reason to make plans for themselves anymore; once they are free, they need practice for dusting off desire again.

Desire…is a holy thing, because it points to our freedom. We don’t have to worry so much about killing all these things we want, or naming them as bad, because the things we long for point to part of the eternal we were made for.

My mom tonight painted the most beautiful picture for me. She described that the Lord himself is like a table – he is the space of all provision; he is where we gather for celebration…he is where we talk and make community. And as the bread and the wine, He is not only the means to the nourishment, but the nourishment himself.

Desire, like hunger…is a holy place. It leaves us vulnerable. Of course, no one is meant to go hungry endlessly, and no one is meant to be left without dreams fulfilled (the word tells us that we perish without vision).

And this is recognizably a hard topic when we think about the very real and physical hunger many in the world face. And yes, a very difficult topic when we think about the many desires that seem to be left unanswered. Dreams that seem crushed.

I don’t have all the answers for any of those, but I remember again now that being vulnerable to my own desire is not a bad thing. It doesn’t leave me selfish or needing to stuff something away. It leaves me…quite open to the God who holds all my dreams, and who spreads his own body like a table – the table and the provision – wide open with the feast. I will keep showing up, as long as he is there, in this holy space where he gets to highlight the eternal in me, the eternal that is found here in my desire.

Do I find everything fixed, all desires met? No. But this ground is not hard; and I (for once) am not bitter. I am open – I am open to the eternal and to whatever this table brings. I am just glad to have him with me in this space, in this very good desire space.

Walking Shoes (Boone)

I remember the first days I saw Boone. It was orientation for Rachel’s first year at college and we had brought the whole family, made a whole mini-reunion of it. I remember the mornings leaving the house on Glenham Drive – Dad, not yet graduated from his legal pad packing list to his standard spreadsheet, would firmly call out reminders to the family as we got ready.

“Bring your walking shoes. We’re going to be walking a lot.”

“Wear layers.”

“Do you have your raincoat?”

His voice easily echoed throughout the house.

The drive then was not so familiar, but by the time I left I felt I could drive it in my sleep. It is always poignant – that first time you realize you have crossed into mountain air. One square foot of highway before, you weren’t there. The next – you’re so deep in it, you can’t go back. It meets you at the knee of the mountain – where the foot was otherwise still too humid – and brushes cares off your shoulders that you didn’t know were there. You know it when it comes because it starts to hum a lullaby that awakens you and puts you to sleep, all at once. Without words, everyone begins to open the windows of the Chevy Astro van and silk their fingers through the fresh mountain air. It is cold and nearly icy to the touch – it feels so alive that you want to dive your whole body into its currents. Music is turned off, as if to louden the sound of the quiet whipping wind.

I remember unloading the van in front of Lovell dorm, the same dorm where my Mom had stayed, and carting Rachel’s belongings up the rusty elevator that we were sure might give way at any moment. There, too, the mountain air seeped in through the window of her very grown-up room, filtering through the pine tree leaves beside. She was my cool big sister who went to college first. I remember her big orange “18” that she promptly displayed in her new home, a gift her friends had made her on her last birthday.

Dunnings were picnic-ers. We would picnic on the side of the parkway, us and the orange cooler, off the back of the faded red Chevy Astro van. Dad would snap photos from the overlook, over and over, in silence, always looking for the perfect shot.

Never leaving without a prayer across the threshold, we said our goodbyes and down the mountain we went, Rebecca and I already plotting how we would split the bunk beds.

________________________

Came Becca, too, traveled to Boone. She lived in what she liked to call the Eastern block of Germany. I remember the Amelie soundtrack she played as we made the best out of trying to clean the small space that she would now call home. I remember the candle she burned to mark her entrance in this new place. She spoke in dreams of the people who would come through her door. And not without a prayer, we headed out.

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I remember when I moved out for good, first time, halfway through college. I cried. I loaded the then-loaned-from-Becca white 1982 Volvo station wagon with all my stuff and drove up the mountain alone. I was moving to a crumpled set of grungy apartments coupled behind The Red Onion restaurant that produced a strange smell, one that never failed to waft its way up into our ground-floor cave. We had such a little space, but we began large. Two bedrooms, four girls, and a brief walk to all our friends – we were invincible. Our first real apartment.

I remember that back porch with the faded wood that would not splinter and watching the mountain side turn green again after winter, and summer nights whose days had seen a good bit of the river and wet hair over glasses of wine and fresh guacamole, and always always, with the friends inside. I remember that freak hail storm one summer while we were swimming and I remember jumping off the dam. I remember the winter we never got out because it didn’t stop snowing. Ever. I remember our roommate family time that I was so determined to have and I remember early study mornings. I remember, too, another Boone house, and another time. I remember Boone.

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I remember Hannah Redd and the first time we sat in Welbourne and thought how we may be the same person. I remember our road trips in her small red Toyota-that-could named Latoya and Hannah’s constant music, constant drumming. I remember hiding the pillows and those bunk beds and how incredibly hard it was to get out of bed during college. I remember her listening eyes and her persistence and I remember dressing Jeffers the Christmas tree. I remember Hannah Redd.

__________________________

The drive does not forget me, though now I come from the North side. I drive up the mountain again this weekend to stay in cabins a little ways off. I see that Hannah Redd, and the Brittany and Audra beside her. I see them and now I also see Hannah’s soon-husband, and I know we will welcome him in deeply. We will find our porch in the shade of the trees there and remember all the laughing, and make new laughter, and pull up a chair for Evan. We will see the mountain side green again, and we will look on to the next home. And we will pray over their threshold before leaving.

_____________________________

The drive cannot come quickly enough: Chilly nights have been whispering to me and calling me to their dew; even the whipping winter winds howl to me from their graves. I found myself so near in heart that I almost thought to tell the girls

to bring their walking shoes,

and to wear layers,

and to remember their rain coats.

I’ll set my packing list aside, and fall prey to the dance, and summon the letter-story that hides in the woods sometimes. The woods are for safe-keeping, and here in Boone is a secret Narnia that holds a spot in time for me – a bookmark of faithfulness, and of layers, and many, many pairs of walking shoes.

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He never forgets where he left off. He never lets the ink run dry. The current runs strong, and when it doesn’t, it rests deeply, and with purpose, til all the sediments sink to the bottom and collect in the mud and nurture the earth. With every new threshold – whether of the heart or of the home, or of both – I still see our good Father unpacking the next chapter, and praying over our threshold.

Desk Thoughts for a Tuesday

In her book Daring Greatly, my new best boo Brene Brown alludes to her priest’s sermon about the nature of sacrifice. She explains he points out that the original Latin form of the word sacrifice means ‘to make sacred’ or ‘to make holy’ (238). I am all over this. The Old Testament denotations of the word conjure up images of blood and animals, and the New Testament, a dying Jesus.

With these pictures in mind, I don’t tend to think of sacrifice in terms of anything holy or lovely, but rather in terms of killing that which needed to die because it represents something that needs to go away. And when the word tells us to make a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15) I think of the personal cost, at times, that it takes to express my love, appreciation, awe, etc. for who Jesus is. I think of denying myself something in order to recognize a truer reality. All of these things are sacrifice  – but I think there’s also another way to look at it.

When we couple this definition of sacrifice with the idea of making a sacrifice of praise…maybe what we are actually doing is agreeing to make holy that which concerns us by devoting it to the sacred. What if a sacrifice of praise is actually about saying He is competent to perfect that which concerns me? By this we convert our worry, anger, and disappointment into hope – confidence, even – that he will make sacred our woes. He will make sacred our failures. And he will make sacred our nagging fears. Maybe this is praise! This is sacrifice. He makes sacred. We make sacred by offering to him our certainty that his goodness is big enough to swallow up that which would otherwise steal life, and he makes sacred by meeting us there and taking care of all the rest.

The ugly becomes beautiful here, in sacrifice.